Midway through the campaign, I made a conscious effort to stop referring to him as Justin.
Coincidently, at about the same time, he stopped calling the president of the United States Obama. A new kind of smile appeared on his TV face, the listener: raspberry lips in a patient pucker, eyes fixed on the speaker, a faint squint producing crow’s feet at the edges, as if to say, hey I’m 43, pay attention.
So now it’s Prime Minister Trudeau. A high school drama teacher who spent the first years of his life at 24 Sussex Drive moves back home, where he’ll be sitting in Papa Bear’s chair. His first step toward the job was a powerful eulogy at his father’s funeral. A desperate Liberal party began to hope. Some said his ambitions relied too much on the family name. Seven years as a third-tier backbencher seemed to slip by. Then the campaign began, handing him an opportunity to perform under the most punishing glare imaginable. How he changed, remained the same. Check the evolution of his hair.
The greening of Justin Trudeau was brilliantly captured by 22 Minutes comedian Mark Critch. Wearing a curly wig, goatee, and moustache, the ace mimic Critch, as the Prince Hal of yore, asked an obviously embarrassed Trudeau what advice he would give his younger self. Trudeau’s answer? “Oh dear.” Lose the hair, get a suit, work hard, which prompted his younger self to shriek, What, become a conservative?
In the last six weeks, the 78-day campaign was a boisterous game of three-dimensional chess. We’re used to a relatively quick, binary skirmish, with third parties campaigning for influence, not victory. Despite an initial effort to find the centre, the NDP fell back into their historic comfort zone of morally, intellectually superior gadfly to the main action. Mr. Harper fell on his sword. A parody of his worst side, in his last days featured him playing keyboard for a Quebec City talk show (“Let it Be”), waving real cash to illustrate economic policy, finally, dragging the Ford brothers into his sweat tent for comfort.
The Trudeau camp’s best decision was to have faced brutal Conservative attack ads head on, turn them to advantage. “He’s just not ready” became the most often quoted phrase amid a dizzying repetition of policy points. All Mr. Trudeau had to do was prove them wrong, and the job was his. The Conservatives made it about the man, so the man stepped forward.
Dominated by a younger generation, the Liberal team grasped, perhaps instinctively, that the most important political asset in a media-saturated age is simplicity. To paraphrase an old phrase from the cynic’s handbook, if you can fake simplicity, you’ve got it made.
It’s the economy, stupid? No, actually, it’s not. It’s about connection, likes, essential preconditions for a leap of faith.
In December of 2006, I somehow snagged a gig as freelance reporter for The Gazette, with accreditation to the Liberal convention that chose Stéphane Dion as leader. My mandate was to wander around the Palais des congrès looking for “colour,” eavesdropping and observing. Meanwhile serious politico types covered speeches, interviewed important people and spent gobs of time in the pressroom, bent over laptops. I bumped into Justin in the hall, introduced myself. We “sat down” (his favourite phrase) for a chat. Curiously, he was supporting Stéphane Dion, although without making a public event of it. At least the media did not court his opinion, which is how I got my story.
It seemed to me Gerard Kennedy (former Ontario minister of education) would be a far better choice than nerdy Dion. (Bob Rae agreed.) Looking back, I realize Trudeau at 34 was still in his pre-Oedipal phase, paying deference to the high intellect candidate who most resembled his father. Nine years later, he has emerged as a Kennedy-type leader, with all that the famous surname implies.
The most interesting line in the Trudeau campaign was his belief that Canada is punching below its weight. He’s a man of ambition. He’s older than he looks, but he exudes the best quality of youth: a belief that things could be better.
Since the global financial meltdown of 2008, the Canadian economy, and by extension our system, has had a lot of positive international press, as well as negative around specific Harper policies. We’re in the top ten of various lifestyle lists. Such compliments have encouraged a suffocating smugness, which Harper never failed to stoke. When Trudeau pricked this bubble, people knew he was right. Blessed with resources, obscurity, and naturally safe borders, Canada has never had to fear failure. Mediocrity is our nemesis. On so many levels, we cave.
Among the insults aimed by Trudeau’s opponents, none was more irritating to me than the suggestion that teaching high school is thin preparation for the job of PM. (Never mind that Trudeau has been in the House of Commons longer than in the classroom.) Teaching, I would argue, is an excellent preparation for the rowdy business of democracy. He has zero tolerance for bullies, and knows when to name one. He has a professional predilection for pulling the team together. He’s comfortable delivering pep talks. The last thing we need in Ottawa is more lawyers and bean counters. These types belong on staff, buckled up in the back seat.
Trudeau’s victory speech was gracious, to the edge of gushy, containing a resumé of key policy points and magnanimity towards defeated foes. A rousing pep rally addressed to a pan-Canadian crowd, he once again spoke the language of Millennials and younger voters, giving them credit for the win: It’s all about you.
The 2015 election campaign was a riveting theatrical experience. Now it’s time for the hard slog of reality. There will be a honeymoon. There will be gaffes. Things will change and yet remain the same.
Will our hearts be broken? Most surely they will. This is politics, after all. This is life, and television. Judged by the season launch, I’d say our new prime time series looks promising.
Marianne Ackerman’s monologue “Mankind,” performed by Leni Parker, will be part of Urban Tales at the Centaur Theatre, December 10-19.
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Birth Name: Justin Pierre James Trudeau
Place of Birth: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Date of Birth: December 25, 1971
Ethnicity: French-Canadian, Scottish, English, Dutch, 1/256th Malaysian
Justin Trudeau is a Canadian politician. He is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and has served as an MP since 2008.
Justin’s mother, Margaret Joan (Sinclair), is a writer, actress, photographer, and television personality. Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau (Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau), served as Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 to 1979, and again from 1980 to 1984.
Justin’s father was of mostly French-Canadian, along with some Scottish ancestry. Justin’s maternal grandfather was a Scottish immigrant, while Justin’s maternal grandmother had English, Scottish, French, Dutch, and 1/64th Malaysian ancestry.
Justin’s maternal six times great-grandmother was a Malaysian woman, making Justin of 1/256th Malaysian descent. If elected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin would be the first Prime Minister of Canada with verified Asian ancestry (or with any verified non-European ancestry). Justin’s mother traced her Malaysian ancestry on the CBC series Who Do You Think You Are?
Justin’s paternal grandfather was Joseph Charles Émile Trudeau (the son of Joseph-Louis Trudeau and Marie Malvina Cardinal). Joseph-Louis was the son of Louis Trudeau and Marie Louise Dupuis. Marie Cardinal was the daughter of Marc-Solime Cardinal and Marguerite Surprenant.
Justin’s paternal grandmother was Grace Elliott (the daughter of Philippe Armstrong Elliott and Sarah Sauvé). Philippe was the son of Edward Elliott and Amelia Morrisson. Sarah was the daughter of Seraphin Francois Sauvé and Agnès Clark.
Justin’s maternal grandparents were James Sinclair (the son of James George Sinclair and Betsy Ross) and Doris Kathleen Bernard (the daughter of Thomas Kirkpatrick Bernard and Rose Edith Ivens). Justin’s grandfather James was born in Banffshire, Scotland, and was a Canadian MP from 1940 to 1958, from British Columbia. Justin’s great-grandfather Thomas was born in Indonesia.